It’s not really something you’d expect to happen in deepest rural France – but then there aren’t too many people with the same interests as my husband, so when a casual exchange about life stories with the baker leads to a demonstration of fish photographs and then an invitation to see the oven, we can’t turn it down. You see – anything can happen when one fisherman meets another! And this sparked the beginnings of an idea – over the next few months I want to share with you stories about the local artisans we meet in France and what their jobs really involve – so we start with the life of our village baker.
Truthfully, we’d been wondering about the baker, David Gaillardon, for months. We had lots of questions that needed definitive answers. How did he survive ? What time did he have to get up to produce the wonderful bread and other goodies we saw each day in the window of our tiny local boulangerie? Has the wonderful tradition of french baking succumbed to the deep-freeze?
We’ll start at the beginning. There is a bakery in our village. Most reasonable sized villages have one. Towns have one on each street. Bread is a staple of french living and has been for centuries, a staple with its roots entrenched in the mists of time when if there was nothing else to eat, then there was always bread and not just cake, as Marie Antoinette tried to explain before she lost her head in 1793. Bread and patisserie is a constant of French life and covers a broad subject involving a full spectrum of edible delicacies ranging from the humble croissant (an art in itself) to the magnificent chocolate log of Christmas (the amazing Bûche de Noël). In between are sundry tartes, gateaux and petits fours, and there is also the use of the oven for cooking the village’s sunday roasts in some far-flung locations. La boulangerie is a magnificent mix of flavors, smells and typical French ingenuity. And truthfully, no matter how good the food at a table, the French will always have bread at it too.
So, the morning of our visit arrives, and we find ourselves outside the small door of the shop just as the sun is rising, and entering the shop David swings aside a section of the counter and leads us to the dim and dusty warren behind. There is flour everywhere. There is a small kitchen behind the shop, then a prep room with a long counter and a vast array of knives and chopping boards, and then the oven in its own large space, jostling for room with a huge mixing bowl and two 6’ high proving and chilling cupboards. Along one side of the room is a big long machine that seems to be left over from a carpet factory – it turns out it rolls the baguettes into shape. There is flour in here too – lots of it – everywhere. It is the mark of a man who works at high speed for small concentrated lengths of time – for even as we ask questions and take photographs, David is a blur of movement, moving between the oven, the proving cupboards, the shop (each time the door-bell tinkles way out the front), the rolling machine and the bread baskets. While he works Mr H and David talk about fishing and electricity consumption, and I throw in questions more suitable to the surroundings. In a very short space of time we have plenty of answers and many more questions.
There are some simple facts we learn quickly. David has been a baker since he was sixteen and he hails from a coastal town a few miles to the south called La Palmyre. In his small, dusty bakery, he single-handedly produces between 300 and 400 loaves of bread each day, AND the patisserie we see out in the shop. I am in awe. I know how much effort a single loaf of bread makes, even with a bread machine, but to make that many ??
It turns out that of course there is a regime. A method to the madness, and behind it all, a story. David’s day really starts at about midday. This is when he combines the four ingredients, salt, flour, yeast and water, needed for his bread – his dough. In fact, there are two doughs – one for the white bread typified by the traditional baguette, and the dough needed for the pain de tradition, which is not quite the same thing. David explains that the older generation of customers prefer the bread of their youth, the white crusty baguette, while many of his younger customers have come to like the breads he makes with a flour in which the miller leaves husk and grain in – a minute quantity – but enough to give a difference to the dough and the resulting loaves. This is the pain de tradition. There are also some cereal loaves, and the very different gross pain, a huge mountain of a white loaf with a half-inch thick burn crust that is cut into pieces and bought by weight. All told, there are normally nine different breads on the shelves each day.
In simple terms the dough is then divided into the required quantities and then has its first proving. During the afternoon, at various times, this dough is then shaped in the rolling machine and then proved again until needed. The two huge proving cupboards both warm and chill for storage. At odd times during the latter part of the day, David also attends to the requirements of the patisserie section of his shop, making pastry, rolling croissants and pain au chocolate, making flans and tartes, cutting fruits, shredding chocolate and mixing whatever else he decides to bake that day – biscuits, galettes and eclairs all feature on his shop shelves. The basic premise is that when David leaves the shop by nightfall, he has done everything for the next day and final part of the routine. Each morning he arrives at 5.00am, goes through to the oven, already hot and ready for use thanks to the automatic timer and simply rolls the first 10’ long trays of proved loaves into the furnace and starts all over again. By 6.00am, the shop door is alight and the first customers appear. He bakes bread three times each day as is traditional in France, producing fresh baguettes for each of the three main meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner, so that the bread, containing absolutely no preservatives is always fresh.
All of this information is imparted as David works with his precious dough. As is typical of someone who works with an established routine, his movements are economical, his handling of materials and tools practiced, and his time is a steady pace of perfectly executed routines. As one shelf of loaves appear from the oven, another underneath is being readied to go in at another level. David explains succinctly that the oven he has now is only 4 years-old, a substantial 37,000 euro investment that replaced a cast-iron monstrosity that he inherited when he bought the business seven years ago. The old one had to be broken into pieces in situ during the exchange to get it out of the door and in life it used 500 gallons of heating fuel a week. The new electric oven sits proudly in a much smaller footprint, replete with a touch pad of blinking lights and buzzing alarms, its three bread ovens and its patisserie oven aglow with heat. David’s fingers work at lightening speed, setting times, heat and alarms without hesitation. The whole experience is akin to watching a concert pianist work with play-dough.
I ask a few more pertinent questions in between the men’s fishing and hunting conversation. A strange fact emerges – David does not live in our village. The building we assumed was both bakery and home is just a bakery below and someone else’s home above. David and his young wife, and the three children we see at weekends scuttling in and out of the shop, actually live in another village four miles away. His wife is a nurse. They have been making bread locally for eight years. It then turns out that for 12 years before that, David taught the art of baking at France’s national bakery institute, and as he explains how his flours, doughs and oven-times all work together I realize we are talking with a master craftsman. This is reinforced when we find out that the friend he holidays with is the president of the national baking foundation. This snippet of information is followed by a conversation which involves discussion of air, kneading, yeast, temperature, flour mixes and the vagaries of different forms of heating. I am amazed at the breadth of baking experience we are lucky enough to have in our little village.
As we leave, I spy a sack of thirteen huge loaves in the corner. They are something we do not see in the shop and I ask where they are going.
“Ah,” says David with a grin. “They’re for the old people’s home – they like the traditional white bread, but not the crust, so it is easier to chew, I make theirs specially for them” I am amazed for the second time how lucky we are to have not just a craftsman, but such a gentleman in our village.
43 thoughts on “OUR FRENCH VILLAGE BAKERY”
How lucky you are indeed to have such a master baker in your village as unfortunately an enormous amount of “traditional” French bread is now made industrially and trucked in frozen under cover of darkness to be reheated and sold as made on the premises. I love this tour of your boulangerie, I can’t even imagine how any one single person can produce so much bread. Does he not even have someone serving in the shop to help out? What sort of size is your village? I’d beinterested to know how many people the 300-400 loaves feed. What a lovely post to link up to #AllAboutFrance, thank you.
Hi Phoebe, glad you liked the post. Our village is about 650 people and there is another village a kilometre away which does not have it’s own bakery so I would imagine quite a few people come from there too. His wife and Mother sometimes help out in the shop, his wife holding their latest addition, a baby girl!
Love your snippets of village life, I want to come and visit the bakery it sounds lovely.
you are most welcome any time, despite years of living in France, I have never been behind the scenes – it was fascinating and I have a whole new respect for the humble baguette
Thank you for an interesting story. Loved it. I am sitting here in Lebanon Mo USA enjoying reading about your life in your French village. Thanks for sharing.
Hi, I am so glad you enjoyed it and look forward to sharing more with you, have a lovely weekend 🙂
Such a wonderful baker to have! Thank you for a chance to meet him.
We are indeed very lucky and so grateful to him for allowing us the chance to see how he works, it was truly fascinating
I knew I wasn’t the only one to have a boulangerie fetish! Nice to see you joining #AllAboutFrance
Ha ha, you have a soulmate!!!
What a beautiful post! I loved reading about your little village, and admire the dedication the gentleman gives to his craft! I can smell it all the way across the ocean 🙂
Thank you, I am so glad you enjoyed it. It truly is a craft and I now have a a great deal of respect for the humble baguette.
What a wonderful story! I am really looking forward to the next in your series of local artisans~
Thank you so much, I hope to post an in depth article about the local artisans once a month for the next few months, as well as writing about it, it is completely fascinating and it is great to be able to share with other people
Wow! How interesting. And what a find – that you have a master bread maker in the village. thanks for all the pictures as well. Its the sort of thing that I love – knowing the ins and outs of things. I look forward to more!
Hi Sally, I am so glad you enjoyed it. It was utterly fascinating and I am so looking forward to getting behind the scenes with other local artisans over the coming months, there is so much I don’t know about so much I take for granted and I look forward to sharing my discoveries.
Such a beautiful story! Indeed you are lucky to have such a talented and thoughtful “craftsman.” I loom forward to your next story!
Thank you Tamara, we were so grateful that the baker took the time to invite us to see how he works, it was a fascinating couple of hours and one we thoroughly enjoyed.
The boulanger has always been such a mystery to me – thank you for so beautifully explaining their days, techniques, and hard work! It’s incredible how much care and detail the bakers put into their craft, and how awesome for your village to have such an experienced and prominent craftsman in your own neighborhood! Looking forward to your other artisan posts, what a great idea!
Thanks and so glad you liked it. It was truly fascinating for us too, to learn so much and see him at work, I have a completely new found respect for the humble baguette now!
Thank you so much for sharing this. I am so glad you enjoyed it. It was truly fascinating for us too and we felt very privileged to be invited to see our baker at work and to learn so much from him.
Absolutely! I have enjoyed reading about your adventures! (And LOVED that priory pic this morning!)
Thank you, it’s great to get feedback, it makes it all worthwhile. Lots of fun and factual blog posts planned and I add photos to facebook as soon as I see something interesting to photograph, it is really like a daily diary in pictures, life as we see it and things that inspire us most days! Have a great week
Oh how my stomach is yelling at me to hop on a plane and go back to France. My stomach enjoyed that trip 14 years ago so much. And how I wish we had boulangerie here in E. TN we have a creperie that is pretty fantastic. Thank you for you sharing!
Hi Erin, so glad you enjoyed the post. It was equally fantastic for us being able to view the baker at work behind the scenes, loved doing this. Hopefully you will enjoy all the other interviews with artisans we have lined up over the coming months. Have a great week, Susan
What an interesting read. So interesting to see behind the scenes and to think that the baker in our village boulangerie must be doing all that too. I’ll watch out to see which other artisans you’ll be talking too.
Hi, so glad you enjoyed reading about our village baker, after many years in France it was fascinating to actually see a baker at work and to learn so much, and he is so passionate about his breads. Do follow me on wordpress so you don’t miss the artisan posts (monthly) and other posts that might interest you. Love your blog, just spent a while browsing through and I am now following! Thank you
What a great post! I have just found your blog via the Good Life France, and have now subscribed. I lived in France (Poitiers) for a year about 5 years ago, on a teachers’ award, and honestly, the daily bread was an absolute highlight! I love the area you live in, and will look forward to future posts.
Hi Alison, so glad you found the blog and thanks for following. It is such a lovely area which is why I felt compelled to write about it. I wonder if you found the teaching very different here, people say it is very old fashioned compared to either the USA or UK. Our children seem to adore it though!
To be honest, yes, it was somewhat old-fashioned compared to here in New Zealand. Very little IT stuff happening, for example. (In my school, anyway.) I had a lot of resources on a memory stick and they weren’t much use….. Having said that, the teachers and students were just lovely, and I managed quite well using a few resources such as good old Kiwi tea towels!
How interesting, we were in NZ for two years, in Kerikeri, lots of IT and Enterprise classes. To this day the children still hardly ever wear shoes outside, thanks to their time in NZ! There is very little encouragement to think outside the box here, it is far more regimented. I wonder what you did with tea towels – the mind boggles!!! Where are you in NZ?
I’ve been in Auckland for 11 years now, after 30 years in Nelson. Kerikeri is lovely! Re the tea towels – lol! I had one with a map of New Zealand and one with a picture of a kiwi. So I just used them as visual aids when I was giving wee talks! (In English!) I had a scenic DVD and a few other bits and pieces as well. Good memories.
Love reading about the behind-the-scenes stuff! That is so sweet that he makes special bread for those in the nursing home. 😉
Not sure if wp just ate my comment so feel free to delete this if it’s a duplicate. I just said that I love reading about the behind-the-scenes stuff and think it’s so sweet that he makes special bread for those in the nursing home. 😉
Thank you. He is passionate about what he does, a true craftsman and a true gentleman, it was such a fascinating morning, we learnt so much about the humble baguette!
Ha ha, no we didn’t eat it, both are still on the plate!!!!
What a fascinating post, and such a lovely tribute to your local baker. Not that many young people are willing to follow this arduous path, although we have friends whose son is becoming a baker and loves it!
Thank you Betty. He is indeed a true artisan and so proud of what he does. It’s certainly quite a tough life and as you say not many young people want to go down that route, but I do hope it is not a tradition that dies out; glad to hear of a young person enjoying it, let’s hope there are many more:)
I really admire artisan bakers like this and only hope there are some young people willing to take on this lifestyle. France with only industrially produced bread would be be lacking something so special. #AllAboutFrance
Yes I totally agree, can you imagine a France without the little boulangeries in the villages, it does not even bear thinking about. As you so rightly say though, just hope some of the young want to continue with the tradition. Only time will tell
Loved this post! And…I love bread but don’t eat much of it anymore. What a lot of dedication that man has to do that very physical job and do it over and over and over again! Does he actually NOT bake on the weekends? I can’t imagine how he even takes one day off.
Many years ago my hubby and I ran a bakery for a very short time and found out how terribly much work it is and how it totally disrupts family life. We stopped baking (commercially) and never looked back.
I often think about what people had to eat in years past and of course I know bread played a major part, as did and does pasta, especially when there was not anything else to eat but flour, salt, if they were fortunate, and water. It’s a miracle thing, actually, bread. I wish I could eat it all and every day!
Hi, so glad you enjoyed the post. Yes he bakes at the weekend, not on Wednesdays! It is incredibly hard work. How fascinating that you ran a bakery, you know what he must go through, but he loves his job and is so proud of his profession. I hope one of his children follow in his footsteps and the tradition does not die out. Thanks for commenting and following, love reading such interesting comments 🙂